An Endangered Fin Whale Washed Up On An Oregon Beach, Think They’ll Blow It Up Again?

Whale washes up on shore in Oregon
KGW News

Earlier this week, a rare and beautiful fin whale washed up on the shores of Sunset Beach State Park near Warrenton, Oregon.

This ocean beauty was 46 feet long at the time of its death and researchers believe it was suffering from some unidentified illness due to its thin and emaciated state. It was covered in “rake marks”, which is a tell tale sign that killer whales, or orcas, were trying to make a meal out of it before it made landfall.

Around 8,000 fin whales live in the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2021 NOAA report. Although they are one of the more populous whales in the region, it doesn’t mean their numbers are completely stable, as they have been on the endangered species list since 1970. Before commercial whaling, there were an estimated 42,000 to 45,000 according to the Center for Biological Diversity, and while their population has been on the upswing due to conservation efforts, it still sits at 18% of their historical peak.

As fin whales go, this one was actually quite small. They are the second largest of all whale species to the Blue whale, with mature fins growing to around 70 feet long and weighing 45 tons (90,000 pounds) during their nearly 100 year lifespan. They filter feed on krill, small fish, and crustaceans using their keratin-based baleen covered mouths to suck in prey from the open waters.

It is the first time in a decade that a fin whale has washed ashore and researchers have decided to let this carcass decay naturally and be reabsorbed by the ocean instead of undergoing a removal process, which is a good thing because the state of Oregon doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to dead whale removal…

The Great Whale Explosion of 1970

Back in November of 1970, a major problem washed up on the shores of Florence, Oregon.

According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, a 45 foot, 8 ton dead sperm whale was brought in by the tide and began rotting on the beach. This initially intrigued locals, but they soon realized it was a pretty big issue due to the smell of thousands of pounds of decaying flesh and blubber.

Due to some odd jurisdiction rules, the beaches at the time were managed by the Oregon Highway Division (now named the Oregon Department of Transportation), so marine biologists were not involved in solution planning, which wound up giving us one of the wildest stories imaginable.

Assistant District Highway Engineer George Thornton was assigned to lead the whales disposal and came up with a very unique method.

He decided to treat the whale like a boulder, meaning protocol for removal involved dynamite. Lots of dynamite…

On November 12th, the team packed a half-ton of explosives on one side of the whale, hoping the blast would disintegrate the carcass into small bits and launch them into the ocean to be eaten by seagulls, crabs, and other critters.

Spectators gathered on sand dunes a quarter mile away, unsure of what to expect, but confident they would be well out of harm’s way if anything went awry. These were allegedly professionals after all…

But when the blast went off, things went wrong in a drastic way. The beach exploded in a 100 foot tall cloud of sand and whale parts, sending pieces large and small soaring well over the quarter mile safety radius. Seconds later, it began raining rotting whale carcass on the people and surrounding property. One car had its roof flattened and windows shattered. No people were injured but many were covered in blubber and the overwhelming smell of decay hung heavy in the air, lingering for days afterwards.

Paul Linnman of KATU News gave perhaps the greatest news line ever spoken during his broadcast.

“The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds”

Excellent work by Paul but a complete disaster for all others involved. In all fairness, this operation was doomed from the start; who let’s the highway patrol deal with beaches, let alone dead whale removal? And even if there was no option other than the highway patrol dealing with this, you’re telling me they couldn’t have gotten on the phone with another beach town and ask how they handle these things? Couldn’t have done some research on other state’s policies?

Can you imagine the feeling in George Thornton’s stomach when the dust settled and he saw that not only was there still a sizable chunk of the whale that hadn’t moved an inch, but that parts that did carried much farther and in the wrong direction than intended? We all thought forgetting to do homework in middle school made you queasy…

George passed away in 2013 after working almost 40 years for ODOT from 1947 until his retirement in 1984. He remained adamant through his old age that the news was too harsh on him for the decision, which actually only fell into his lap due to some colleagues conveniently planning to go deer hunting. Seems they knew this was going to be a disaster and got as far away from it as possible.

I’m sure it wasn’t funny to those who had to deal with it, but looking back at this disaster one thing is certain: It’s absolutely hysterical. Regardless of anything else, George gave the world an all-time classic story that we fortunately have incredible footage of, or it may just have been too rich to be believed.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock